The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic proclaimed its independence in 1918 and became the first democratic state in the Muslim-oriented world. The country was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920 as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. The modern Republic of Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence on 30 August 1991, prior to the official dissolution of the USSR in December 1991. In September 1991, the Armenian majority of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region seceded to form the Republic of Artsakh. The region and seven adjacent districts outside it became de facto independent with the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994. These regions are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan pending a solution to the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh, found through negotiations facilitated by the OSCE.
Azerbaijan is a unitary semi-presidential republic. The country is a member state of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. It is one of six independent Turkic states, an active member of the Turkic Council and the TÜRKSOY community. Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with 158 countries and holds membership in 38 international organizations. It is one of the founding members of GUAM, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. A member of the United Nations since 1992 after its independence, Azerbaijan was elected to membership in the newly established Human Rights Council by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 May 2006. Its term of office began on 19 June 2006. Azerbaijan is also a member state of the Non-Aligned Movement, holds observer status in World Trade Organization, and is a correspondent at the International Telecommunication Union.
The Constitution of Azerbaijan does not declare an official religion and all major political forces in the country are secularist. However, the majority of the population are of a Shiite Muslim background. More than 89 percent of the population is Shia. Most Azerbaijanis, however, do not actively practice any religion, and the country has been seen to be one of the least religious countries in the Muslim world, with 53% stating religion has little to no importance in their lives, according to Pew Research Center and Gallup polls. Alcohol and non-Islamic places are also permitted. Azerbaijan has a high level of human development which ranks on par with most Eastern European countries. It has a high rate of economic development and literacy, as well as a low rate of unemployment. However, the ruling party, the New Azerbaijan Party, has been accused of authoritarianism and human rights abuses.
According to a modern etymology, the term Azerbaijan derives from that of Atropates, a Persian satrap under the Achaemenid Empire, who was later reinstated as the satrap of Media under Alexander the Great. The original etymology of this name is thought to have its roots in the once-dominant Zoroastrianism. In the Avesta's Frawardin Yasht ("Hymn to the Guardian Angels"), there is a mention of âterepâtahe ashaonô fravashîm ýazamaide, which literally translates from Avestan as "we worship the fravashi of the holy Atropatene." The name "Atropates" itself is the Greek transliteration of an Old Iranian, probably Median, compounded name with the meaning "Protected by the (Holy) Fire" or "The Land of the (Holy) Fire". The Greek name was mentioned by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. Over the span of millennia, the name evolved to Āturpātākān (Middle Persian), then to Ādharbādhagān, Ādharbāyagān, Āzarbāydjān (New Persian) and present-day Azerbaijan.
The name Azerbaijan was first adopted for the area of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan by the government of Musavat in 1918, after the collapse of the Russian Empire, when the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was established. Until then, the designation had been used exclusively to identify the adjacent region of contemporary northwestern Iran, while the area of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was formerly referred to as Arran and Shirvan. On that basis Iran protested the newly adopted country name.